Father Seraphim was known for his deep affinity for Iveron, the first portion of the Most Holy Theotokos. We know far less about the intercession of the saint in the rise of New Sarov in the Georgian city of Borjomi, and his recent entry to the circle of Georgia’s most revered saints, on a par with the Holy Venerable Gabriel Urgebadze.
Veneration of Saint Seraphim of Sarov
His veneration in Georgia began in the 20th century. Many Georgians recalled the elder’s intercession on their behalf at their most difficult moments. Most, however, did not know his name. The few church publications that were coming out in Georgia were under an informal ban on the mention of his name. Many knew the name of the saint only years later, and left some wondrous accounts, some of which we present below.
Guram Chitanava shared this story about Aunt Gruna, a friend of the family from a small Russian town. She came to Georgia during the war looking for bread. She married a Georgian and stayed there permanently. Her daughter had appendicitis, and it burst. They brought her to the hospital too late, and the doctors ask her mother to take her dying daughter home. Aunt Gruna ran to a nearby church, fell on her knees, and prayed tearfully before the Pochaev Icon of the Mother of God. Suddenly, she sensed someone walking into the church and standing next to her. She turned around, involuntarily, and saw a monk in a black gown.
“Your daughter is well,” he said to her.
“Who are you?” Aunt Gruna asked.
“Father Seraphim is my name, and I walking to Kiev,” replied the monk.
While Aunt Gruna was mulling over his words, he gave her a small icon of the Mother of God of Kazan. While she was tucking the icon into her bag, the monk disappeared. The candle seller, the only person at the church, assured her that nobody had entered the church. Aunt Gruna ran back to the hospital and found her daughter perfectly healthy. Later, as she inspected the icon, she found on its reverse a tiny particle of the relics of Saint Seraphim of Sarov. Immediately, she understood what had happened.
Saint Seraphim was canonised by the Russian Church in 1903. That year, the young Hegumeness of Bodbia Monastery dispatched to Sarov a nun, instructing her to bring the icon of the new saint consecrated on his relics. The nun returned with a simple small-sized wooden icon of Saint Seraphim. This icon brought multiple miraculous healings to the monastery. After the revolution of 1917, the Hegumeness defended the property of the monastery with great enthusiasm. The revolutionaries were sending her death threats. One day, they attacked her as she was travelling to Tiflis in the company of several nuns. When they opened fire at the carriage, she held to her breast the icon of Seraphim of Sarov praying for his intercession. Unexpectedly, a horseback patrol of cossacks appeared out of t nowhere and dispersed the attackers. From the floor of the carriage, she gathered a pile of bullets. Not one of them had hit her or any of the sisters. After that incident, the Hegumeness was sent to Moscow, where she befriended Duchess Elisabeth Romanov. Saint Elisabeth asked Nun Juvenalia to leave her the wonder-working icon of Saint Seraphim to heal Tsarevich Alexey from haemophilia. She could not refuse. They hung the icon in the bedroom of the Tsarevich, but its fate after the martyrdom of the Russian royal family is not known.
Bishop Ephraim (Sidamonidze), the future Patriarch of Georgia Ephraim II, shared memories of his return from prison in 1944. As he was walking back to Georgia, he sensed the intercession of a saint on his behalf that was guarding him against peril. His Holiness asked himself who it might be. “When I reach home, I will bot wait to walk into my church on my knees, and I will call my intercessor in heaven the first saint that I will set my eye on.” He did as he said, and the first icon he saw was that of Saint Seraphim of Sarov.
Today, every Georgian believer knows his name. There is perhaps not a single Orthodox church that would not have his icon.
The rise of the new Sarov
Georgia’s first church in honour of Saint Seraphim of Sarov was built in a forest near Borjomi and consecrated in 2007. Construction began soon after Tamaz Kurtanidze, a local resident, had three visions of an elder dressed in white. As it became clear after a while, the vision was of Saint Seraphim of Sarov. The elder in the vision showed Tamaz the location in which to rebuild the destroyed church and named the saint to whom to dedicate it.
Metropolitan Seraphim (Jojua) of Borjomi and Bakuriani took charge of the construction. Saint Seraphim is His Holiness’ beloved saint and his guardian angel. When the Primate of the Georgian Church asked him at tonsure which name he desired to select, he said nothing but prayed silently to Saint Seraphim. – Receiving no answer, Patriarch Ilya II declared, «Then I tonsure you with the name Seraphim…»
After the dedication of the Church, Metropolitan Seraphim participated in the painting of its walls. He asked the painters to portray him as the paralytic at the feet of the saint.
In the process, a small miracle occurred. The Metropolitan and the painter were talking about the does that used to inhabit the forest. Hearing their talk, a boy from a nearby village became upset. He walked out of the church and cried, “Look, Your Holiness! A doe! A doe!” The Metropolitan went outside and saw a doe. It ran into the forest and disappeared. The boy had prayed silently to Saint Seraphim, “Saint Seraphim, I have never seen a doe. Please show me one, and I will put a candle for you! I am asking you from my heart.” This heartfelt prayer of a child reached the ears of the saint.
With the labours of Metropolitan Seraphim, a convent began to form around the church little by little, modelled on the original Sarov Pustyn as seen on the photos from 1903. If you cannot visit Sarov, you can visit a corner of Holy Russia in this part of Georgia.
It even preserves a copy of the small wooden cell with the icon of the Theotokos “Endearment”, a well outside and a stone in the shadow of the trees that has already worked several miracles.
One day, a paralysed eleven-year-old girl was healed after sitting on this rock after a Moleben. In another example, two women had come to New Sarov with a child aged six. As an Akathist was being read to the saint, he climbed on the stone and jumped on it. The nuns asked him to stop, reminding his mother that it was a relic and should be treated with reverence. But the mother paid no attention and continued with the reading. Suddenly, some invisible force threw the child off the stone, leaving him standing, unharmed, in convulsions. Another visitor to New Sarov twisted her ankle the morning before her visit. But when she came to the stone and prayed, the pain in her ankle was gone.
Many visitors believe that the stone in New Sarov is the exact stone on which Saint Seraphim used to pray. In truth, the whereabouts of the original stone is not known. Many who kneel on the stone in prayer say that they cannot spend more than 20 – 30 minutes in this position. Saint Seraphim prayed on this stone for 1000 days and nights.
Metropolitan Seraphim also narrated a miracle that happened in Borjomi during the five-day war between Russia and Georgia in 2008. “The city does not stand on the main road, but we still expected to see some Russian tanks,” recalled the Metropolitan. He said to the head of police, “Call me as soon as you see the tanks. I will come out to them and say, Hold your fire, boys. We are of the same faith.” In the meantime, he was praying to Saint Seraphim of Sarov for the city of Borjomi to be spared of destruction. Finally, a single tank appeared on the outskirts and stopped without entering the city. An officer and soldier climbed out and said, «We have come to taste the mineral water, we heard a lot about it and your city as children». The tank had made a detour of 30 kilometres for the sake of the water. The army men bathed in the water spring and turned back. Through Saint Seraphim’s intercessions, the city of Borjomi was spared.
A worldwide saint
Seeking unity in Christ, the Orthodox from different parts of the world venerate the same saints and icons. One example of this trend is the miracle-working icon “Unity of the People”, depicting Saint Seraphim of Sarov together with Saint Gabriel Urgebadze.
Another is the icon in which these two saints are shown with Saint Nektarios of Aegina, the Patron Saint of Georgia and a beloved saint among the Orthodox worldwide.
Saint Seraphim of Sarov belongs to Russia, Georgia and also to the whole world. Refugees and immigrants from Russia brought the veneration of Saint Seraphim to Europe and America. Multiple churches in his honour have been built in France, some are active in Greece, Germany, Belgium and Italy, among others. To America, Saint Seraphim of Sarov is a newcomer. However, there are already several churches In his honour in California, New York and some other US states. As the clergy of these churches are saying, Saint Seraphim hears the faithful and hopeful prayers of the Christians in all these places and comes to their help.